What's the best monitor for a graphic designer?

The internet, in particular e-forums are known to be the most helpful source of the information for selection of any technological device. The more popular the device to be selected, the more information may be obtained about it from current and former owners. But there is lack of comments as concerned professional, rare and expensive equipment. We typically have to rely upon the seller's opinion. But can be the seller good adviser? Monitors for designers, photographers and printers are considered to be one of these examples.

The main requirement for a monitor to be used in a design environment is high quality color reproduction. This article contains the description of main criteria for the monitor selection.

LCD or CRT-Monitor?

CRT monitors are good in color gradation reproduction by inherently lending themselves to a wide possible color gamut, and have a large angle of view. But the production of CRT monitors was terminated some years ago, stock resources were sold, while purchasing of used CRT monitors can be more like lottery. Therefore, the answer is evident — irrespective of LCD monitor's performance, we just have to use them. Thankfully, there are many models of modern LCD monitors which are rather good in color reproduction.

What's the best monitor for a graphic designer?

Size and Resolution

In general, the initial choice of the monitor is based on its size. The majority of buyers consider that the bigger the monitor, the better. This results in the choice being determined by available funds. 30-inch monitors look like "luxurious" ones, however they are not so convenient in operation as it may first appear. Being at a standard working distance, the user has to turn his head all the time.

In many cases, designers are opt for 27 inch displays. But there is still one aspect critical when choosing a monitor, and that is the aspect ratio. The width to height ratio of 4:3 was considered as conventional with older CRT displays, but is now only typically available in LCD monitors with smaller diagonal dimension: from 19 to 21 inch. All larger models tend to have a 16:9 (including Apple iMacs) or 16:10 aspect ratio. Please, remember that the height of 22-inch widescreen monitor is practically equal to the height of standard 19-inch monitor. Increasing of the diagonal is achieved due to the enlarged width of the screen.

The requirement to choose a monitor's resolution (the density of the display's "pixels", where a higher resolution results in more details per square inch) at any given size is now reduced. Over the past years, there has been greater standardisation of the resolutions in the various sizes; typical resolutions are listed below:

Monitors Sizes, Aspect Ratios and Resolutions
Size
Aspect Ratio
Resolution
Example monitor
19″
4:3
SXGA 1280×1024
20″
4:3
UXGA 1600×1200
21″
4:3
UXGA 1600×1200
21.5″
16:9
WUXGA 1920×1080
Apple iMac 21.5″
22″
16:10
WUXGA 1920×1200
24″
16:10
WUXGA 1920×1200
Dell U2410
26″
16:10
WUXGA 1920×1200
27″
16:9
WQXGA 2560×1440
Apple iMac 27″ and Dell U2711
30″
16:10
WQXGA 2560×1600

Something to be careful of when upgrading to the latest super monitor is that greater pixel density, as recently championed by Apple, can lead to eye strain. Cramming a resolution of 1600×1200 into a 20″ display compared to the 1280×1024 in a 19″ display (both 4:3) may seem like you're getting more. But it may be worth trying a higher resolution-density monitor before buying to make you're happy that smaller text and user interfaces agree with you.

Matrix Type

When selecting the monitor for the purpose of working with color, we should perhaps not give contrast, maximum brightness, matrix response time and other parameters quite as much priority as the seller's wish to make out. A key criteria is the type of matrix used in the monitor. The modern market is represented by the monitors with matrices of four types: TN, MVA, PVA and IPS.

TN

The most common type of matrix is TN (Twisted Nematic). Its popularity is conditioned by minimum production cost and therefore, the most attractive retail price. Also, such matrices only require a short time for switching from white to black. This means that the image sharpness, for example, in 3D games or in the time of rapidly changing frames in movies, should be excellent. However, such a matrix has one significant disadvantage! That is the change of color dependant on viewing angle. Direct your eyes from the monitor's center to corners and you can notice how abruptly color is changed. And the larger is monitor, the more serious is the problem. The color scheme is encoded in 6 Bit, therefore cutting short the theoretical full color gamut. The true display of the colors at any viewing angle is extremely crucial for designer — therefore monitors with a TN type matrix is not recommended for design work, irrespective of the attractive price.

MVA / PVA ("xVA")

MVA (Multi-domain Vertical Alignment) and PVA (Patterned Vertical Alignment) — commonly referred to in combination as xVA — are the monitors represented in the average price category. There are no significant difference between the two types, and PVA is considered to be the branded technology of Samsung, one of the leading producers of matrices for LCD monitors. In comparison with TN, they have a much greater viewing angle, shorter response time, thus satisfying the demands of gamers. As a matter of principle, it may be possible to select a monitor more or less suitable for the work with color among the models featuring an xVA matrix. However, this may depend more on if you have limited funds for a display.

IPS

IPS (In-Plane Switching) technology was designed especially for the improvement of the color rendering. They have a large viewing angle (near 170° vertically) and smooth color changing. But the matrix response time (noticeable even when scrolling text) and contrast (noticeable flash in the dark areas) have been affected. The first problem was mainly solved in 1998 by the appearance of S-IPS (Super IPS) matrices. The problem of substandard contrast was apparent for a much longer time; the AS-IPS matrices with significantly improved contrast only became available only in 2002.

Another updated model of the IPS technology: A-TW-IPS (Advanced True White IPS) designed for NEC monitors. Due to improved color filters, these LCD monitors types provide a clearer and brighter white color and widened color gamut. At the end of 2006, H-IPS technology was introduced. This has higher contrast, while the violet illumination visible on the S-IPS panels at large viewing angles is eliminated.

The IPS matrices are mostly suitable for designer's works. However, it might be not perfect to use such monitors simultaneously for playing games and watching movies.

The following movie demonstrates the effect of a limited viewing angle compared to superior technologies and how they affect color:

Note that the manufactures do not always indicate the type of matrix used in the monitor. Also, manufacturers can replace the matrix with a different type without changing the model number and price. Such replacements are not being officially confirmed and no claims may be asserted in such cases as the specification mat contain no information on the type of matrix. Fortunately, such cases are very rare.

Matrix Surface

Recently, LCD monitors having a glossy surface become increasingly popular, led by Apple's displays on both the iMacs, Thunderbolt displays as well as their mobile products. At the time, it was declared that glossy displays improve the viewing pleasure for movies due to higher apparent contrast. Probably, the manufactures also rely upon more the showy appearance of the monitor on the shelf in the store. However, the usage of monitors having the glossy surface for the real work with images can be considered a detractor: depending on the working environment's lighting conditions, you can see yourself but not the image to be processed.

Initially, the matrix of an LCD monitors was opaque and its reflectivity was equal to 1; therefore, surrounding objects cause very little reflection on such screens. The brightness of the matrix depends only on its actual physical qualities. If it's a TN-type, the color rendering, contrast and brightness are inferior. However, TN matrices are considered to be the most common (because of it cheapness in comparison with the other ones). That is why manufacturers resorted to the following "solution" (Toshiba was the first to suggest the idea of using glossy-surfaced monitors): they have covered the opaque matrix with the special film exhibiting reflectivity greater than 1. What were the results? The image brightness and contrast were increased, while physical parameters of the matrix remained unchanged. Due to this, the usual cheap TN-type monitors began to render improved color. And of course, the manufacturers have all jumped at such an idea!

Glossy monitors are also called glass or mirror-like. That is because they can perfectly reflect of the surrounding objects, especially under conditions of bright illumination. Of course, it is possible to adjust the lighting, prevent placement opposite to window (which can be rather problematical in some office layout, but still there can be more glares in comparison with opaque monitor. The glares are also harmful for eyes. The glossy monitor shows not only the computer display information, but also things in your surroundings. This is unnecessary information processed by your eyes/brain, thus resulting in more rapid tiredness and overload.

What's the best monitor for a graphic designer?

Surface type conclusion

Opaque monitors: advantages:

  • Does not reflect surrounding objects; there is little need of adjustment
  • Less load for the eyes
  • Possibility of laptop usage under any wide range of conditions

Opaque monitors: disadvantages:

  • Poor color rendering by cheap matrices (TN)

Glossy monitors: advantages:

  • Good color rendering

Glossy monitors: disadvantages:

  • Reflects surrounding objects and glare is evident; there is need of more adjustment to compensate
  • Possibility of the outdoor usage of glossy laptops
  • Strong load for eyes

Hardware Calibration

Some of the most expensive monitors are provided with hardware or internal calibration. The process of accurate calibration ensures that on-screen artwork matches printed output when calibrated as part of a full workflow. However, calibration can be an expensive process (although small USB devices may be purchased to better ensure calibration and automate the process further) and it typically only the concern of those working full time in a pre-press environment. It's simply not possible to cover this specialist topic within this article.

Widened Color Range

One of the directions that professional monitor development is heading is the widening of the color range/gamut that the display may reproduce. Monitors with widened color ranges are able to display more saturated color in comparison with the standard models.

At first glance, this sounds beneficial but can also lead to a potential problem. Practically all images intended for distribution (typically via the internet) will by its very nature target an average monitor. Images being displayed on a monitor with a widened color range will appear more saturated and a user will base any color adjustments based on this color profile. But what happens when the same RGB values are displayed on an average monitor? How will the image be displayed? Will the reduced color range result in color drop-out, banding, overly-dark areas, etc.?

By using a carefully calibrated monitor with a widened color gamut along with professional software (correctly set up) such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, the benefits especially to the print designer can be significant. But care must be taken if the vast majority of the work you create is intended for a wider audience viewing it on a monitor.

Conclusion

We hope that the above summary provided some additional insight and was of use. Taking the topics mentioned above into account when choosing your next monitor should help ensure you buy a devise that best meets your design requirements and budget.

In order to verify the calibration of your monitor, you can use the special wallpaper available for downloading upon clicking the following link Monitor Calibration Check-up Wallpaper.


This articles was written by Iaroslav Lazunov and edited by Nicholas van der Walle

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